Article Number Thirty Six - History of the First Presbyterian Church

Written by Joshua G. Borthwick and originally published
on March 8, 1884, in the Catskill "Examiner". Copy provided by the Durham Center Museum and retyped by Annette Campbell



It does not appear that the committee appointed for that purpose succeeded in securing the services of the Rev. Mr. Bird referred to in the last sketch, certainly not as a permanent pastor.  He preached for them occasionally and evidently to the satisfaction and edification of the people, but probably owing to his obligations to the missionary society under whose direction he labored he declined to settle among them.
 
Now we come to the organization of the Church as a religious body, as distinct from and yet intimately connected with the Society, whose history we have been considering.  This exceedingly interesting and important event took place on Thursday, Nov. 8, 1792.  The Rev. Beriah Hotchkin, who was at that time located at Greenville, was present and conducted the exercises. He preached a sermon, taking as his text "Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?---Solomon's Song, 6:10."  Nine persons came forward that day and were constituted a church of Christ, to wit: Christopher Lord, Lemuel Hotchkiss, Jairus Chittenden, Eliakim Strong, Augustus Pratt, John Hull, Joseph Hart, Daniel Merwin and Ichabod Scranton. Christopher Lord and Joseph Hart were chosen deacons.
 
Why the wives of these men did not unite with their husbands in the formation of the church we are not informed. It may have been that, owing to the lateness of the season, the old meeting house was uncomfortable, as the old Connecticut people did not believe in having fire in their churches; and yet those grand old Puritans did not stop for discomforts.  Again, it may have been late when the sermon ended and they were "tired" and must go home to rest; but those old soldiers never got tired in the army of the Lord. No. We are of the opinion that such weighty (?) reasons as these did not influence their conduct.  In the absence of any information on this subject we are of the opinion that these men were actuated by high and noble motives in the act, and that they believed that it was their duty, as heads and representatives of their families, to step forward in this manner as the van-guard of the Lord's host.
 
We are informed that there was a large hemlock log lying on the ground near the door of the meeting-house, and that when these nine men entered into covenant with their Maker and each other they sat side by side on this log, with nothing between their bared heads and the blue sky above them---grand, solemn, impressive scene.
 
The Rev. Mr. Hotchkin was a Congregationalist minister and belonged to the "Association of the Eastern District of New Haven Connecticut," and the church in Durham as formed by him was Congregational in its form of internal government, although it was for convenience sake connected with the Northern Associated Presbytery, and has always been known as a Presbyterian church.
 
At this, their first church meeting, Deacon Christopher Lord was chosen Church Clerk, and the following action taken:
   "Voted, That those members who are in full communion and regular standing with other churches and residing with us may, if they desire it, join and act and partake of the ordinances, yet they are desired to bring forth certificates of their standing by next Spring."
 
Acting upon this suggestion, thirty-seven persons, sixteen men and twenty-one women united with them by letter, Jan 13, 1793.  This accession included not only the wives of the original nine, but many others; and they were followed in September, 1794, by eight additional members who were admitted by the Rev. Mr. Knapp, of Canaan, Conn., who, it appears, was with them at that time.  The Rev. Samuel Fuller preached for them occasionally during these years. He afterward, in 1811, became an Episcopal clergyman and organized St. Paul's church at Oak Hill.
 
March 29, 1794, Patience Strong, the wife of Dea. Christopher Lord, died, which was the first death that occurred among the members of the church. After her death Deacon Lord lived with his youngest daughter, Mrs. Submit Baldwin, until his death, which occurred Nov. 11, 1797. The next death in the church was that of Phineas Canfield, March 13, 1800, and the next, Eliakim Strong, May 14, 1800.
 
Deacon Lord's successor in an official capacity was Benjamin Chapman, who was chosen Dec. 27, 1798, and who occupied that position uninterruptedly until his death Feb. 2, 1842, or more than 40 years. In 1806 Deacon Joseph Hart having removed from the town and taken his letter of dismission from the church, Jonathan Baldwin was chosen deacon in his stead.
 
We will now return to the records of the Society. It appears that there was a strong opposition to building the meeting-house on the hill, which led the people at a Society meeting which was held Feb. 27, 1793, to appoint a committee, consisting of Benjamin Hubbard, Daniel Coe, Joseph Hart and John Palmer, "to look into the situation of the people and find out the number of people, and their distance, and to make a report at some future meeting where they think is the proper place for to build the meeting-house."  The occasion of the appointment of this committee and the consequent re-opening of the question which was already decided as to the location of their proposed meeting-house, was the desire of the people in the West part of the Society to have the house built on a site which would accommodate them better than the one already chosen; and the magnanimity of the people is seen  in the appointment of certainly two very influential men from that quarter on the said committee.
 
The people came together again on the second Monday in March, 1793, to hear the report of the committee and voted that the place for the meeting-house shall be on the Southwest corner of Mr. Strong's lot. (Virtually the same site originally chosen.)
 
Voted that the Trustees go and set a stake at the above place.
 
Voted that the meeting be adjourned to the place where the Trustees have set the stake.
 
Accordingly the meeting met at the stake which the Trustees had fixed for the place to build the meeting-house, and then voted that said meeting be adjourned to Monday, the 18th of March inst., at one o'clock afternoon at the old meeting-house.
 
March 18, 1793, they met and "voted that there be subscriptions held up for the purpose of raising money to build the meeting-house; said meeting dissolved."

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